Dollop of passion with pinch of stubbornness recipe of entrepreneurial success for Petronellas – and a Petrus!
She has a degree in political economy and has worked as an estate agent and lecturer, but Annelie Oosthuizen has not looked back since she found her true passion in the kitchen. Today, as the owner of Petronella Catering, she bears the title of chef, entrepreneur and proud motivator to her team.
Can you give me some background on how Petronella Catering was started?
My journey towards owning my own business led me to be a bit of a Jack of all trades, but I believe that this has equipped me to deal with the diverse nature of business management. I have a degree in political economy, I sold property [and] that taught me how to reach my target market and service clients. I was an executive chef for 10 years and lectured and trained chefs at Port Elizabeth College, which taught me the value of investing in the training of my staff. I started Petronella Catering as a business on the side while working full time as a lecturer in 2009. In 2014, I left the security of a government salary to run Petronella Catering full time. It was the best decision I have ever made.
What is your core service?
We specialise in high-end, quality catering. We are contracted to three venues and specialise in weddings and executive catering for corporate companies.
What made you venture into this industry?
I ask myself that after every 14-hour day! It is passion and a bit of stubbornness that pulls me through. I grew up next to my grandmother’s wood stove and her influence on the way I cook and experience food has been tremendous. Petronella Catering is named after my mom and is meant to be an ode to the women who taught me how to cook and how to live.
What makes your business unique?
I have the best staff. I am proud to say that we do not buy anything in, but make all our food ourselves. People can taste the love and passion in our food and that is what they crave. To cook good food for 200 people is an art in itself. It is just as much about the logistics and the execution as it is about the food, and our team can do both very well.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?
My biggest challenge was believing that I was capable of turning it into success. I have always been hardworking, I knew my industry, I knew I had the necessary skills but I had to change the narrative in my head and learn to be brave. Fear is your worst enemy.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
You are just as good as your last function. As simple as that.
What are some of your best practices?
I invest in my staff. I believe in training and development. No one wants to be peeling potatoes for the rest of their lives. As the business grows you need to compensate your staff, give credit where credit is due and motivate them by giving them real opportunities based on merit. You also have to know your strengths and weaknesses. My administration skills are non-existent, but in my friend Hester I have the best administration manager in the world.
What is your company’s vision?
I would like to leave a legacy. The plan is that my current staff will buy the business once I retire. I will do my best to teach them all the necessary skills to make a success and to leave them a strong business that will give them and their families a sustainable income for the rest of their lives.
What are some of your highlights in running your business?
We have cooked for ambassadors, consuls, ministers and many other high-profile clients. I have received national merit awards and accreditation from international bodies – but the highlight of the business is seeing someone start out as a dishwasher and end up as one of the best pastry chefs in Port Elizabeth.
How many people do you employ?
We are 11 women and I have just employed our first male chef. We call ourselves the Petronellas, so I suppose that makes him Petrus?
How did you acquire funding?
I did not get any funding for the business. I worked two jobs and then started Petronella on the side. I re-invested all the money I made in the business. I also used my personal credit cards, had to apply for personal loans and my mom helped me from time to time. The banks don’t help you when you start. It is only once you have made a success that they are willing to help. If we want to create more small businesses, we have to stop focusing on getting hand-outs and start thinking about generating our own money. The general rule is that you only start making money after four to five years.
What was the first step in actually launching the business?
I just did it. I catered for 13 people from my small kitchen in my flat. I think people over-think business sometimes.
What has been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Port Elizabeth?
I love Port Elizabeth. I believe the potential in our hometown is endless. If you do a good job and give good service you can make it. Clients are loyal if you look after them and I have found that people still see the human side of business and not only money. Who would not want to live and work here? That is a better question.
What is the biggest compliment you’ve received about your business?
It came from a security guard at one of the venues we are contracted to. It was 11.30pm and we had been cooking from 6am. He said the staff must be happy because he could hear them sing and laugh although he knew they must be exhausted.